DECATUR, Ala. – One 2021 nursing graduate from Calhoun Community College has a unique story. She beat COVID-19 not once – but twice.
Elizabeth Ovalle spent the spring 2020 semester battling the virus, along with her mother.
She first noticed breathing issues in March, while many students were on spring break. As her symptoms persisted, she went to Athens-Limestone Hospital, where she was immediately admitted and put on a ventilator.
Two weeks later, her breathing improved and she was taken off the ventilator.
However, she received some sobering news after she was stable again.
Her mother had been admitted to the hospital with a severe case of COVID-19 as well and was on a ventilator.
Ovalle remembered all the work she still needed to do to complete her nursing program and thought back to some words her mother shared with her growing up – If you can physically do something, what’s stopping you?
With those words as her strength to fight, Ovalle contacted the Calhoun nursing department to inform them of her situation.
Initially, the faculty told her to focus on getting better and to wait until the next semester to resume coursework.
But that wasn’t the point of her call – she was calling to arrange a plan to continue studying and completing coursework while she was recovering.
Nursing Department Chair Dr. Lynn Hogan said the department was stunned at how well she did.
“When she requested her coursework and exams, we were floored as not only did she pass them, but she passed them with high scores despite everything she was going through physically and mentally,” Hogan said. “With nothing but time on her hands in the hospital, she used that time to study.”
By April, things began looking up for Ovalle and her mother – they both were out of the hospital and no longer had COVID-19.
However, Ovalle relapsed in June 2020 and visited Huntsville Hospital.
She was admitted for the second time with COVID-19, and again put on a ventilator.
The second COVID-19 diagnosis was more aggressive, and as doctors attempted to remove a breathing tube, her throat closed off, sending her into cardiac arrest.
Hospital staff revived her and successfully removed the tube on a second attempt.
Ovalle’s mother was also admitted a second time for COVID-19 and went on and off a ventilator several times before doctors performed a procedure to improve her breathing.
Ovalle’s mother was taken off the ventilator at that point.
Once out of the hospital, Ovalle worked with instructors to make up the required in-person clinicals she missed.
When final grades were posted at the end of the spring semester, Ovalle discovered not only is she a 2021 graduate and official RN, but the nursing faculty also nominated her as the Most Outstanding Student in the 2021 class.
Ovalle credited her “strong-minded personality” for all the success.
“I am so thankful for all of my Calhoun nursing instructors for being so patient with me and understanding with my strong-minded personality that made me want to keep going and not quit even though I was sick,” she said.
Close family and friends raised $1,400 for Ovalle and her mother, which helped pay some of their hospital bills. The remaining balance was paid in full by hospital donors.
Ovalle continues battling issues from the virus, including a narrowed airway, but with that strong-minded personality, she’s certainly not stopping anytime soon.